LOCKED DOWN BUBBLING UP lays out its premise on page one. Coronavirus lockdown in Ireland – what has it been like? What desires, obsessions, memories, and ideas may rise to the surface when the noise of the outside world quiets…or reaches a crescendo? But readers shouldn’t let the straightforward theme lull them into thinking they know where these stories are going, because–much like daily life in the midst of a pandemic–surprises abound.
Mark Rice’s contributions are sure to shock, thrill, and entice readers by turns. Stories often start as slice-of-life peeks into the daily experience of your average Joe. Readers will recognize these characters as their neighbors, family members, or even themselves. But what begins so mundanely can quickly become as strange and dark as a Stephen King tale. A weekly trudge into town for coffee reveals a future of mass death and dwindling cities. Deadbeat relatives going to stay with granny becomes a much deadlier parasitic relationship. That’s not to say that all of Rice’s stories are pure doom and gloom. Most are funny, and some incredibly heartfelt. In this variety of everyday struggles, Rice’s sprinkling of chilling tales and spooky twists are both jarring and compelling.
In contrast, Lesley Smith’s contributions to the collection have no terrible, urban hellscape to be found, just people living their lives in a strange time and doing the best they can. She writes in a straightforward manner and while her style errs on the side of dry at times, the stories she chooses to tell are anything but. In Smith’s portions readers find out which hobbies a lonely kid might pick up during down time and what sex toys the widow next door might be tempted into trying. Or even what it might be like to contract and die of COVID-19. Sweet, silly, sad, and real – Smith’s stories give a glimpse into daily life.
The final contributor, Mairead de Bhal, chooses another tack entirely. The majority of her works are poems, but the biggest difference between her stories and the others is that de Bhal’s are about lives not thrown into limbo by the pandemic. The experiences of those she writes about are not so easily shaken by the winds of change and make a refreshing counterpoint to the anxiety and tension in many of Smith and Rice’s works.
Though all the stories are tied to a central theme, LOCKED DOWN BUBBLING UP is a collection by three writers that is by turns pastoral and urban, tragic and funny, lighthearted and intense–a surprising mix of dark thrills, heartwarming tales, fear, love, life and death during COVID-19 quarantine.
~Lauren Napoli for IndieReader